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Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Gospel According to Me and My Church

This morning I read once again Jesus' comment in John 17:20-21 "I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; . . . . so that the world may believe that You sent Me."

I stopped at that last clause: "So that the world may believe that You sent Me." It is no wonder to me why so few people come to Christ when those who claim to follow Him are so angry and dismissive with each other who wear different theological labels: Catholic. Baptist. Pentecostal. Nazarene. Church of Christ. Lutheran. Methodist. The list extends for pages and pages.

I've published this on my blog a few times since it originally appeared in 2009. Sadly, nothing has changed, except our continued descent into spiritual fratricide -- all in the name of Christ.

On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him. . . . And Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?" After looking around at them all, He said to him, "Stretch out your hand!" And he did so; and his hand was restored. But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus (Luke 6:6-11).

            Each time I read this passage, I am bewildered by the Pharisees’ cold-heartedness. Why could it be wrong to heal someone – even on the Sabbath?

            Throughout the Old Testament, God appointed religious scholars such as the Pharisees and scribes to protect the integrity of Jewish faith. And next to circumcision, obedience to the Sabbath Day commandment was a central requirement to the proper performance of Jewish law. Little wonder, then, that Jesus angered so many of the Jewish teachers and doctrinal specialists when – according to their interpretation of Scripture – he broke the Sabbath by healing people.

            As I contemplated this vignette in Luke’s gospel, I focused on that thought according to their interpretation of Scripture. And then another vignette in St. Luke’s gospel flashed into my memory. In this one (chapter 9), the apostle John said to Jesus, We saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us (verse 49).

            It seems the Pharisees and other Doctors of the Law were not alone in the practice of their religion within the strict confines of their understanding of Scripture. Jesus’ disciples practiced the same kind of – what I call – “all or nothing” faith.

            “All or nothing” faith. It’s what I practiced for decades. Unless people worshiped Christ like I worshiped Him, or interpreted Scripture as I did, or attended the same kind of church as I – their Christian faith was suspect.

            I should have paid more attention to the Lord’s response to the apostle John in that next verse in Luke’s gospel: Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you (Luke 9:50).

            All or nothing faith. It’s hard to achieve the kind of unity for which Jesus prayed, when we accept from others nothing less than the “Gospel According to Me and My Church” (see St. John 17:20-23).

            Perhaps that’s why the Lord Jesus said to the Doctors of the Law: Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24). Or St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome: Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand (Romans 14:4).

            Considering how rapidly America and the free world are descending into darkness, when will Christians – Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox – finally put aside our “gospel-according-to-me-and-my-church” mentality, agree to disagree on things unrelated to eternal salvation, and work together to win the world for Christ?

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